Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Dreaded Tribute Album

There's this very popular packaging scheme that involves getting a group of various artists to cover the songs of a band or songwriter as a tribute to the artist's work. Usually these turn out quite disappointing. Sure, there's almost always a great song or two, but the rest are filler-level at best, and sound as inspired as your average Holiday Inn band on a Thursday.

As with any general rule, there are exceptions. I'm never going to call these records classics, because there are always a few less-than-stellar performances on these things, but the tributes below are all better than most, and all of them have quite a few really excellent songs on them, and not many duds.

Deadicated 1991 Grateful Dead songs performed by Los Lobos, Bruce Hornsby, Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett, Warren Zevon, and more. The Dead seem like an odd choice because of their own unique style. They wrote many killer songs, and the songs here are very well suited to the artists performing them in almost every case (this may be the most important job in producing one of these records, and is often overlooked). Elvis Costello does a great Ship Of Fools, and Lyle Lovett's Friend Of The Devil is perfect. Los Lobos rock the heck out of Bertha, and Hornsby is excellent on Jack Straw. The Indigo Girls do Uncle John's Band with beautiful, arresting harmonies. Dwight Yoakam's Truckin' is big fun. There are only a couple near the end that don't work, but overall a strong record, and a huge surprise.

Endless Highway The Music Of The Band 2007 I love the Band, and here's another source of great songs. This one has a disparate group of artists and shouldn't work. Besides, who can improve on a Band song? Answer: These artists. The Roches do their three-part harmony to breathtaking effect on Acadian Driftwood. It's the definitive version. Gomez tear through Up On Cripple Creek, Allman Brothers do a wonderful The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and Lee Ann Womack does the best The Weight since the Band's original. My Morning Jacket, Josh Turner and Death Cab For Cutie all perform well, and Rosanne Cash does a heartbreaking The Unfaithful Servant, maybe even bettering the original again. It's that good.

Common Thread: The Songs Of The Eagles 1993 This was a great idea. Eagles songs performed by country music stars. Really, it's hard to believe it took until 1993 for somebody to do it. Most of the arrangements are true to the originals, so it's really up to the singer to find the song. It happens a lot more than you'd think. Clint Black's Desperado is gorgeous. Alan Jackson's Tequila Sunrise, Diamond Rio's Lyin' Eyes, and John Anderson's Heartache Tonight are also excellent. Trisha Yearwood does a nice New Kid In Town, and Vince Gill turns in the most spectacular, pitch-perfect rendition of I Can't Tell You Why. It's hard to breathe while you're hearing it.

So there's a few tributes that don't make you want your money back. That alone would be high praise in this category, but all three of these are highly recommendable.

No comments:

Post a Comment